Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas through the eyes of expectant parents

We went to the Verizon store today. We decided to upgrade our phones and part of our Christmas for one another. Jennifer and I each had an old flip phone, and Jennifer got little to no reception in our house. We called the customer service folks, figured out which phones had the best reception, and went in to purchase them. The one that was recommended to us was the EnV3. It had the keyboard for texting. It had phone features. It was able to do all the internet stuff if we chose to go in that direction at some point, but did not require any "data" subscription from Verizon.

The sales guy we consulted with today was more energy than explanation. He was a decent guy, but kept pushing us toward the Droid. The Droid, he said, was a really good deal right now. We debated back and forth on what we wanted. Jennifer liked the EnV touch. I liked the Droid. He explained the merits of each, with the great apps that were free from Verizon. With our deal, we could have had Two Droid phones for about the same price as the other phones that were of lesser value. "Why not get this deal on the new Droid, while you can?" the salesmen emplored us to consider.

We asked him to explain to us the cost of the new coverage of the Droid vs. the EnV touch. He explained that in fact, we would be paying $30 more per phone to get all the "data" package that came with either. So, we would in fact be paying less for the phone. We would, however, be paying $60 more in coverage, which would mean that we would be paying over $1500 more over the contract of the phone.

We decided on the EnV3, that does not require a data subscription. As we headed out of the parking lot with our new phones, which we enjoy very much so far, we began to talk through the decision once more. "The way I look at it," I said, "it is like this: Droid or diapers, Droid or diapers...pretty easy decision".

Monday, December 21, 2009


Getting Started

  1. On a scale of 1-5, what would you rate this book and why?
  2. If you could summarize the point of this book in one sentence, what would it be

The Big Picture

  1. If your life was a kind of story, what kind of story would it be? Suspense? Romance?
  2. Does your story have a "narrative arc"? What would the theme of your life be if it were written as a story?
  3. Do you think your story is written by you, or written by forces outside of your control?
  4. How do you take more control of how your life is being written

Finding the Plot

  1. What do you think of the definition of a story as "a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it"?
  2. What do you think of Don's discovery of inciting incidents? Have you created inciting incidents in your life? How have they come into your life unannounced?
  3. What are the major conflicts in your life? How have they defined you?
  4. What plot turns in your story do you see ahead?

Getting Into Character

  1. How would you feel about the process of editing your story?
  2. How do negative turns drive a story when you observe it?
  3. How do positive turns drive a story?
  4. Which usually comes first, the positive turn or the negative turn?
  5. Which of the following parts of character development intrigued you the most?

    Inciting incident

    A good character must face fears

    Saving a Cat

    Positive turn

    Negative Turn

    Making yourself the hero of your story

    The three acts of a person's life (discovery, stability, reflection)

  6. How do you keep from getting stuck in a bad story?
  7. How do you change to write a better story?

How do you become a more admirable character in the midst of your story?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food Allergies

Today, I have had a number of conversations regarding food allergies that people have. It seems like there are a lot more people that are allergic to things that I remember in the past. The television is talking about kids with food allergies to peanuts. Another family expressed an allergy to Christmas trees. Is it the challenges in environment that cause more allergies? Did people with allergy problems just have a hard time and were considered sickly in the old days. I dont know. I am considered.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Wish You Could Have Known Him....

The other day I made a visit to a member of our church. She is in an assisted living facility after a number of months moving from the hospital to a nursing home to an assisted living facility then to the one that she is in now. Whenever I visit Harriet* she tells me about her husband that passed away a few years back. And each time, after she gets done telling me about this man and his many good qualities she says, "Clint, I wish you could have known him."

Recently, as I mentioned, I went to visit her. We had a brief conversation about her new home. I was there to check in on her and make sure she was doing alright in her new home. As I was leaving she was telling me how much she appreciated me as her pastor. Then she spoke about how she missed her deceased husband. After that she stopped moving her walker, she looked at me, and said, "I wish he would have known you. I think he would have liked you. I wish he could have known you."

I smiled and thanked her for what she said, and tried not to give away that I was deeply moved. She just changed a few words in her script, but it had really touched me. She valued me enough as a pastor that she wished her deceased husband had known me. I felt like when she had changed the directions of the relationship she was honoring me, showing respect for me, and demonstrating affection for me in a new way. I felt, in short, I had went from being the new preacher to her pastor. As I left, I took a deep breathe, made sure a tear did not well up in my eyes, and departed. Then, I smiled.

If I were Tiger....

Much has been said and written about Tiger Woods in recent days. I have listened to several news reports, read several more, and listened to my wife and mother about what they thought about what has been revealed about Tiger's very public sins. Now, I want to share some thoughts about the whole Tiger Woods media frenzy.

First, I must admit I am a Tiger Woods fan. I am not usually a frontrunner or a bandwagon fan, but when it comes to golf, I guess I am. I feel like I grew up with Tiger. I followed his career for years before he began the PGA Tour. And when he went pro, I rooted for Tiger to be the best ever.

I like several things about Tiger's game. I love that he can spray his drive off in the woods somewhere, shoot an impossible approach shot, and end up with a birdie. From the beginning, Tiger has played a rock and roll style of golf in a profession that has often been more like a Benny Goodman concert.

Not growing up with a lot of wealth, I admired folks in golf that did not fit the mold of the typical golf pro. People like John Daly, who is as redneck as they come. I also root a lot for Rich Beem and I used to be a big Chi-Chi Rodriguez fan. Tiger's game fits less into the typical mold. He has made a way for himself on the golf course, and changed the way the game is played.

On the other hand, I was not always a fan of the way he played. His four-letter word tirades at fans and cameramen wore thin. Although I loved the visible passion he played with, grounding clubs and throwing things while he was golfing made me ashamed to root for him at times.

Now, when I heard the news about Tiger I was not all that surprised about hearing that he cheated on his wife. Anyone who has Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley as his running buddies should expect to find themselves in some compromising situations. I did not approve of his behavior. But, I thought who Tiger Woods has sex with is really none of my business. As I watched the story unfold, I kept wondering why people would not just let the issue go.

Through the last two weeks it has become apparent that the Tiger Woods drama will not go away. And now, Woods has taken a leave of abscence. If I was Tiger I would have managed things totally differently.

Here is what I would have done:

1. I would have made a public appearance soon after the accident. Even if I was forced to bringing in camera people and a news reporter, I would have made a VISIBLE statement. I would have shared something to the effect of "I have made so many mistakes, many of which will only be known me and those closest to me. I have cheated on my wife. I have betrayed the trust of my fans. I cannot make things right. I can try to be a better man. I hope you will give me the space to do that with my family, and the patience to earn back your trust after I get my personal life taken care of. Thanks for all your support"

He needed to be seen visually by people. He wasnt. He needed to get ahead of the story instead of having it trickle out ahead of him. He didnt.

2. I would not have said I was going to take time off from golf. Idle hands will only lead to more temptation and emotional distress for the Woods family. It is not coincidence this happened in the off-season. Instead I would have said that I was limiting my appearances and reevaluating my life in such a way that I would only particpate in majors and in tournaments where I could be at home at night. A self-imposed house arrest for Tiger will not help Tiger's marriage. I will not help his image either.

3. If I was Tiger, I would work to reinvent my image to be commensurate with who I am. I would allow myself to be recast as the villian of the sports world and the golf world. I would star in commercials that poked fun at my mistakes. I would be very blunt with those who criticized me about my mistakes, and come up with snarky comebacks to put them in their place. I would be more difficult with the media. I would get a tatoo or two that was visible on the golf course. I would be the Man in Black of the PGA tour. The man that everyone hates. The antagonist of all the pretensions that are a part of the golf world. Later, as I worked on my marriage and family at home, I would hope to reinvent my image again in four and five years, pointing to what I had overcome and the good I have done in the community with my foundation.

What do you think? Do you think the whole Tiger Woods thing is truly newsworthy? Do you think there are racial dynamics in how the story is being covered? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent

Advent Faith

L: Father God, as the season gets hectic and our life gets crazy
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to remember that the person that took our parking spot is also your child
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to understand that seasonal employees are only temporary
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to believe that gifts of time and money in Salvation Army pots and to helping deliver food baskets does make a difference
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to remember that having all the family coming to town is a good thing
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: in ourselves finish all of our work, schoolwork, and projects we have taken on
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: in each other to believe that we can all praise you and worship you without expectation
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to pray and believe we are heard
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to pray for those who don’t have blankets—not for gifts we think we need.
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: of a child who sees decorating the Christmas tree as a gift and not a chore
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: Of a child who sees the world through eyes filled with wonder
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to believe this candle is but one light among a million others that will guide your children back to you
All: Amen
(from the Book of Uncommon Prayer)

Advent is about faith. Faith is a word that is easily confused in our society. When we think about “having faith” it can be easy to think about faith as something that we own,--a possession or a noun. We talk about different religions as different “faiths”. Faith becomes for us then an idea, or a value system. Scriptural faith is not primarily an idea or an object. Faith, first and foremost is a verb.

Faith describes an action. Having faith in God is about courageously trusting God. It means that we trust even when we do not quite understand all the details of how things are going to work out, and when God’s promises are going to be fulfilled. We are not living by faith until we are trusting God to care and provide for us without having all the answers and demanding all the control. We have faith when we follow Christ with certainty even in light of uncertain circumstances today, and an uncertainty about what tomorrow brings tomorrow.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph? Can you imagine yourself as a young woman, who was probably in about 8th or 9th grade, becoming pregnant as a virgin,
and trusting God through that? Can you imagine the courage that took to trust that much? To trust through the teasing and the mocking? Can you imagine how foolish people must have believed Joseph to be for still taking her as his wife? Sometimes believing God means trusting in what he is doing even when everyone else thinks you are a fool. Sometimes having faith means living in the truth that “nothing is impossible with God”, and believing that truth on a daily basis.

LIGHTING THE CANDLE (read as lighting the candle)

Now we light the faith candle, and as we light it, we trust that God is at work keeping his promises and bringing his light into our lives and our world.


Thank you God for your promises to be faithful, and to and never forsake us if we have put our trust in you. Help us to remember that even when things seem hopeless, we can trust in your promise that “nothing is impossible with God”. Give us that kind of faith.

Sermon on 12/6

Song of Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"[c]
29 But when she saw him,[
d] she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"
35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

      " My soul magnifies the Lord,
       47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
       48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
      For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
       49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
      And holy is His name.
       50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
      From generation to generation.
       51 He has shown strength with His arm;
      He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
       52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
      And exalted the lowly.
       53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
      And the rich He has sent away empty.
       54 He has helped His servant Israel,
      In remembrance of His mercy,
       55 As He spoke to our fathers,
      To Abraham and to his seed forever."

56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.


It is easy to look at Mary in the pictures that were drawn of her in days of old and get a different picture of her than is Biblical. It is easy to think of her as this matronly woman with alabaster skin and a beautiful blue and white robe. It is easy to think of Mary and beautiful and docile. A well-behaved young woman from a working class or middle class family whose father worked hard and whose mother stayed home to keep house and home school her and her brother and sisters.


Or maybe it is easy to think of Mary as that girl that never speaks up in class but always gets straight A's in her classes. She does what she is supposed to, but generally is meek and invisible and seeks to fade to the background and into the wall whenever possible.


As I start to read the gospel of Luke, and as I read Mary's song, commonly known as the Magnificat, I get a different picture of Mary. I hear a young woman full of courage and energy. A strong and bold woman. A woman who asks questions for clarification of the angel of God. A woman who lives a life defined by boldness and risk. A woman who courageously stands for what she believes, no matter what the cost. A young teenager who is willing to do whatever God told her to do, no matter who it confused and made angry.


Most historians put Mary's age at 13, though she could have been as old as 16 or 17 and as young as 12. It kind of worked rather simply in ancient Israel. Once a young woman shows initial signs of entering puberty and being able to have children, the parent makes arrangements for the girl to get married to an appropriate man, and about a year after that she gets married. Many parents would already have arranged that man to Mary, and have begun the wedding plans.


Mary's parents and Joseph and Mary had already made the wedding plans. They had already received the dowry that the family got from Joseph—in effect paying Mary's family to marry her. She had already set the date for the wedding. After her 8th grade graduation she would probably be walking down the aisle with her husband, who seemed to be a decent man with a good job to support her.


Then that pesky angel stepped on the scene. You know who he is. His name is Gabriel. That day he came to Mary and immediately told Mary that he had good news for her. Twice Gabriel says that Mary is favored by God. That God has seen her and approved of her. The angel tells Mary that God is with her.


Then Gabriel shares the big news that he has come to announce. He tells Mary that she will have a child. He tells her that she will have a son, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, that he will be in the line of David, that he will reign over the house fo Jacob forever, and that his kingdom will never end. Jesus will be his name.


Mary has a question, and she asks it. She asks how she can become pregnant when she has never had sex. Pretty bold to ask a question like that to an angel. But typical of a teenager to ask it.


Gabriel tells her that this child with be conceived not in a normal way that babies are made, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. He says after this that the child is the Son of God. And that Elizabeth, who had been barren and was well beyond childbearing years, was also going to have a child. It seems Gabriel shared this with Mary so that she would have another sign that what was happening to her was part of what God was doing. It seems Gabriel was also telling Mary this so that she would know that what was happening in her womb was bigger than just her and her situation.

He is also telling her this. There is nothing that is impossible with God.


There is no situation that is impossible with God. There is no town that is God-forsaken. There is no person that is hopeless. There is no illness that cannot be healed. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no situation, on heaven or on earth that is more than God can handle. Nothing is impossible with God.


Mary responds by saying this "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word".


At first that may appear as a passive response. A response such as "not my will, but thy will be done". That is not the kind of response that Mary has though. It is more akin to the prophet Isaiah when he encountered the angels in the Temple. Mary is saying boldly something similar to "Here am I! Send me!" or "Let's roll". It is the response of a good soldier to a general when they are giving marching orders. The angel said it. Mary believed it. She believed in what God was doing even if the whole world thought she was a fool. Or even if the whole world thought she was a slut, which it is clear that people even at the time of Jesus believed to be true. She had her marching orders. Now she was going forward armed with the knowledge that she was doing the good and just and right and fair thing.


Can you imagine the kind of character it would take to be pregnant out of wedlock for nine months in a community where everyone knew everyone, where everyone gossiped and whispered about the indiscretions of everyone? Furthermore, can you imagine going through all of that anger and judgment and disappointment that people would heap upon her?


What kind of teenage girl would it take to deal with all of that? I will tell you what kind of girl. A passionate girl willing to do what she believes is true and right even if it means defying everyone around her. A courageous young woman that is willing to do her part to bring the kingdom of God to earth. Strong. Bold. Full of conviction. Not meek or passive. Submissive to the word of God. Yes. But Mary was no wilting flower.


So soon after Mary discovers she is pregnant she goes up to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth meets Mary John starts dancing in her womb. The Scripture said John leapt as a fetus in the womb of Mary. He started praising and dancing. And when Elizabeth touched Mary she started saying under the power of the Holy Spirit that she was blessed, that the Messiah was coming from her womb, that Elizabeth was overwhelmed to have the Mother of her Lord come to her. Furthermore, Elizabeth says that the promises that the angel made to Mary are true, even before Mary was able to share with her cousin the story of Gabriel's visit.


Mary responds with one of the most amazing words from Scripture. Her prayer has been banned by governments in the 20th century, because the governments who heard it believed it to strong and too subversive. She prays a prayer that expresses the truth that Jesus came to set the world upside down. Or rightside up. Depends how you look at things I suppose.


She sings a song that thanks God for looking at her, and making her the vessel to bring Jesus into the world. Then she says what God is doing through her at that moment. At that moment God is turning the world on its head. He is bringing down the proud from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He is looking with favor upon the poor and the hungry, and he is stripping the wealthy of the money they are so proud of. He is remembering his people, and he is at work setting things right for them. Those that have lifted themselves up will be brought down to their knees, and those that are humble will be lifted up from their lowly estate. This is what God is doing for me and through me said Mary. This is what is happening through this Jesus that is in my womb. Mary speaks up against the evil rulers and the greedy rich. She speaks up against evildoers in power. And she speaks up for the humble and the forgotten, the lowly and the faithful.


You see, faith is not passive. The word faith is an action word. It takes courage to live by faith in God. You will offend people. You will lose friends if you stand for what is right. If you walk by faith there will be times where you are literally living by a prayer.


When you choose to live by faith, you are living a life of active dependence on God to help, to provide, to guide, and to show the way. You are not always going to make the most money. You are not always going to have people clap for your words. You might be lonely. You might have people roll their eyes when you walk by. You might be mocked. You might even be physically attacked.

Living by faith means trusting God. At times when it is hard to trust, we must keep acting in a trusting manner. We must keep standing for God. Faith isn't faith when its easy, and when we can see the end in sight. Faith is faith when we walk step by step forward, leaning forward to hear the voice of God calling us to keep moving forward into a future we cannot completely see.


And it is when we have the courage to trust God when it is not easy to trust God that we see God doing amazing and unthinkable things through his people in their simple and humble estate. Will you have the courage to have the passionate faith of Mary? Will you have the courage to be as bold as Mary? Will you trust God enough to trust Jesus then? I hope you will. Because faith like that never is in vain. You never lose your investment in the kingdom of God.


Mary is a woman of faith. And she expresses that faith through her song and her actions. But she about more than her and her situation. As Mary sings that prayer she is speaking of a God who is faithful. Faithful to the prayers of generations. Faithful to the promises that God had made through the prophets. Faithful to love people like you and like me, and to make a way for us when there seems like no way.





By faith she points forward to what she had yet to imagine in those months when Jesus was still in her womb. She points to the love of God that sends Jesus to teach us the Way of God. She points forward to the faithfulness of a Jesus that wandered as a homeless man, and taught us how to love and live. Then he showed us what the love that regards us in our lowly state was really all about. He did that by being willing to go to the cross and to die there for our sins. Mary suffered the mocking of her peers. Jesus endured something far worse. He suffered mocking from the very people he came to save, to love, and to die for. And they beat Jesus. And the hung him on a cross. And they left him there for dead. And when he took his last breathe they ran a spear through him to make sure he had died. And to everyone who looked around it appeared like their hopes were in vain, their faith in Jesus was ill-placed, and their prayers were all for naught. But that was not the end of the story.


Scripture says that on the third day Christ rose again. He was victorious over sin and death. He ascended to the right hand of God. He rules even now, and he will come soon to judge the living and the dead.


And he urges us, as we come to this table to be bold enough to trust him. To stand with him and for him. To take this bread and this cup and proclaim that we trust that what God was doing back then means that we can stand for him and trust him even today.





Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...